Proposals for the Children’s Museum of Brownsville to take over Ringgold Pavilion and to redevelop the Brownsville Event Center are part of the city’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget voted on Tuesday by the Brownsville City Commission.
It was the first reading and vote on the budget, with the second reading and vote scheduled for Sept. 1.
City Manager Noel Bernal said the event center, on Paredes Line Road between Ruben Torres Boulevard and Morrison Road, and the pavilion in Dean Porter Park don’t generate enough revenue through fees and rentals to cover the cost of maintaining them.
“We have just over $1 million (annually) that we invest into both of those facilities for staffing and operations and maintenance, but those two don’t recover costs,” he said. “The net cost to the city is around $700,000.”
Bernal said the plan stems from a reassessment of the city’s priorities and core functions that was already underway before the pandemic, and that the 2021 budget is an “inflection point” that presents an opportunity for the city to “renew and re-imagine” its mission. While the pandemic didn’t necessarily drive the proposals for the pavilion and event center, it likely hastened them due to the burden on the general fund caused by the pandemic, he said.
Now with both facilities closed due to COVID-19, the maintenance and operations costs with no revenue coming is putting more pressure on the general fund, Bernal said. From December through April a subcommittee of the commission looked at profit/loss of the city’s various entities, which ones were being subsidized and at what cost, he said.
The pavilion and event center “kind of floated to the top” in terms of services the private sector might be able to better provide and, in the case of the event center, not put the city in direct competition with the private sector, Bernal said, noting that a privately owned event center sits next door to the city facility. It hasn’t been decided whether the event center will be re-purposed with another function, though the city wants something that will contribute to the tax base, he said.
“I think we want to work with the developer who master-planned that area,” Bernal said. “We have made initial contacts and he has been receptive about how to convert it into something that would complement the area and potentially be revenue producing through it being a private development.”
He said it’s up to the commission to decide whether the city will sell or lease the event center. Meanwhile, the museum is badly in need of addition space, Bernal said. The museum leases its current location from the city and would also lease the pavilion.
“They have expansion needs and they need to pretty much double their footprint,” he said. “Being the only children’s museum in the Valley, we want them to continue to grow. They don’t have a lot of space to grow into, so this would be a way of killing two birds with one stone. We take some cost (and) let them keep growing, and they bring more money into our local economy.”
Bernal said the proposals were made only after much analysis and deliberation by the city, and that the savings will be spent on the city’s vehicle fleet and facilities that have gone unfunded or had funding deferred.
“It’s part of the continuation of our planning effort and our strategy of growth, where we need to grow and how we’re going to make sure we’re meeting our needs and being disciplined with the resources that we already have,” Bernal said. “It would be great to provide every service, but general fund can’t be the be-all for every service.”
City employees connected with the event center who also maintain the surrounding park part time would be reassigned to park maintenance full time, he said.
“So there’s actually going to be a parks maintenance enhancement for some employees,” Bernal said. “Others are going to cover some needs in our planning department, which is an area of focus, because that’s where our growth and development and our tax base creation come from.
“We’re also taking some of that staff and using them for the creation of a downtown beautification program. We want to have more staff dedicated toward the maintenance of downtown full time so we can have it beautified and maintained in a way that would attract additional private investment.”